Joseph Smith (1805-1844)

Born in Vermont in 1805, Joseph Smith spent most of his childhood in western New York State, a region known to religionists and later historians as the "burned-over district," in honor of the religious revivals that swept the area in the early nineteenth century. In 1830 he published his religious revelations as theBook of Mormon. An immensely charismatic presence and gifted speaker, Smith quickly accumulated followers and moved them to northeast Ohio in 1831. There Smith and his "Saints" hoped to live together in a community that approximated the Kingdom of God on earth. Several other groups of Mormons had established settlements in Missouri as well. By 1837 the Ohio settlement had come into conflict with its neighbors, and difficult economic conditions prompted Smith and his followers to travel westward to join their fellow Saints in Missouri. But relations with their neighbors quickly deteriorated there as well. The Mormons came to Illinois in 1839, and by 1842 their settlement of Nauvoo counted at least 12,000 inhabitants, making it the largest city in the state. Thousands of other Latter-Day Saints lived nearby. The church erected a massive temple. Insisting upon controlling local institutions, the Latter-Day Saints assembled the Nauvoo Legion, a well-trained Mormon army provided cannon by Springfield officials eager to court the bloc-voting sect. The Mormons' exclusive social and economic organization and clumsy attempts to influence Illinois politics quickly led to controversy with other Illinoisans. By 1844 Illinois Governor Thomas Ford had called out the state militia to quell the growing conflict. In June of that year an anti-Mormon mob rushed the jail holding the Saints' leader Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum and murdered them. [A published account of their murder, A Correct Account of the Murder of Generals Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage on the 27th Day of June, 1844 is available on Lincoln/Net. Please click on the title to view the book.] Despite the governor's ineffectual efforts to keep the peace, lawlessness persisted for two years in what has come to be known as the Mormon War. In 1846 the Mormons quit Illinois and began their trek to Deseret, the modern Salt Lake Valley of Utah.


Brooke, John L. The Refiner's Fire: the Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Remini, Robert. Joseph Smith. New York: Viking, 2002.